Return to the Baltic
When I was a lad—I had not yet left school—I was taken to see at the Savoy Gilbert and Sullivan’s Mikado, then young like myself and even younger than I.
I heard the operetta from a certain place in the front row of the dress circle a little to the left of the middle. The impression it made on me was very vivid; I retained a permanent and lively memory of the occasion, nor was that impression blurred by repetition, for I never saw the thing again on the stage during the rest of a long life.
Not long ago I saw a notice that The Mikado was to be played at the Savoy and a fancy took me to book exactly the same place, as far as possible, in the new theatre, and see what difference a space of fifty years would make in The Mikado’s effect on my mind.
I am not sure that such an experiment was moral. We are not intended to measure our mortality, and to plan a contrast of this kind deliberately is a mechanised and artificial way of treating life; for life should rather be taken as it comes, and lived in continuity, remaining all the while identical with itself. But the curiosity of testing Time was too strong for me, so I acted as I have said. I booked my place many days ahead so as to make sure of it, and on the appointed evening I sat there, gauging the years—nearly fifty years—between youth and age, observing what the interval had done to me.
The notes or jottings I am beginning here about Scandinavia come of a similar experiment. Forty-three years ago, in the year 1895, I set out with a companion for Scandinavia—Sweden and back by Denmark—not Norway—a brief but intense experience vividly remembered. ‘Why ’ (said I to myself) ‘should I not test that gap, leap the forty-three years between youth and age, and bring the one against the other in comparison?’
I had not seen Denmark or Sweden again in all that long interval, a working lifetime. They would have changed, but I much more; and it would be fascinating to explore the change. . . . What happened was by no means a peregrination; it was rather a glimpse: Copenhagen again, Stockholm again, Elsinore again, Gothenburg again, the vast lakes and the innumerable pines, the unending forest of the Gothlands and the Danish Islands and their farms after forty-three years. And in that sharp glimpse much more than the things immediate to the eye (and more even than the people) concerned me, for they provoked in me, as travel always does, other thoughts, and other memories, and other speculations in a train of reflection and feeling, so that the whole little business when written down became a hotch-potch which the reader, if he will bear with it, must take or leave according to his mood.